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She is both a high school student and an IUP student. The state system has found success by admitting students to dual programs

Ella Fleming’s stomach sank when she walked into her first class at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Ella Fleming felt nervous when she went to her first class at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

At that time, Fleming was 16 and had nearly two more years of high school to finish.

Fleming, from Armstrong Township, Indiana County, will be 17 in June and was very scared. She thought everyone would realize she was younger than the rest of the students.

Even though Fleming is enrolled in both IUP and Indiana Area Senior High School, no one noticed she was still in high school when she was in her business class. She did well and no one, not even her professor, knew unless she told them.

The demand for college-level courses among high school students has helped some of Pennsylvania’s 10 state-owned universities, including IUP, despite their overall decreasing number of students. While the universities are experiencing a decline in overall enrollment, there has been a 69% increase in the number of high school students like Fleming who are dual-enrolled as State System undergraduates, reaching 1,239 students, up from 734 six years ago.

From 2018, the number of high school students, such as Fleming, who are dual-enrolled as State System undergraduates, has increased by 69% to 1,239 students – up from 734 six years ago.

Starting in the fall, the classes at IUP will be cheaper after the latest reduction in tuition and fees for dual enrollment, cutting the cost per credit to $100 from $204.50. This reduction was proposed by IUP President Michael Driscoll and approved by the school trustees at their meeting last month. Fleming, a junior at Indiana Area high school, initially joined IUP to explore, but now she's taking two more dual enrollment courses this spring, in macroeconomics and history. She expects the three courses she has already completed, along with others she plans to take while still in high school, to allow her to graduate from IUP up to two years early and save thousands of dollars.

Fleming hopes to finish high school six months earlier than her planned spring 2025 graduation, as her dual enrollment courses also contribute to her high school studies.

Growth in Numbers

Although dual enrollment students make up a small portion of the State System’s total enrollment of nearly 83,000, their numbers are increasing while the overall system enrollment has decreased by 31% since 2010. However, IUP's overall enrollment increased by almost 5% last fall.

The growth in dual enrollment contrasts with the overall decline in system enrollment since 2010, although there have been increases in first-year students over the past two years. At IUP, the overall enrollment increased by almost 5% last fall.

The growth in dual enrollment is also different from the decreasing numbers of transfers into the State System from community college students and those from public and private four-year campuses, which have collectively dropped by 22% to 4,219 students between 2019 and 2023, according to State System data.

According to State System data, there has been a decrease in the number of transfers into the State System from community college students and those from public and private four-year campuses, dropping by 22% to 4,219 students between 2019 and 2023.

Dual-enrolled students take up seats that might have been vacant at the state-owned campuses. They also have higher enrollment and graduation rates and are more likely to enroll in a State System campus, according to Kevin Hensil, a system spokesperson. About 85% of dual-enrolled students continue to attend from their freshman year to their sophomore year, and 57% graduate in four years, both higher than the general student population's percentages, said Hensil.

At Commonwealth University, where the number of students taking college classes while still in high school has almost tripled since 2018 to 583, officials say partnerships with nearby school districts can help encourage more students to do so. The university’s provost, Diana Rogers-Adkinson, mentioned the Bloomsburg Area School District as an example.

”They have a goal to have a lot of their students graduating with an associate’s degree at the same time as their high school diploma,” said Rogers-Adkinson, whose institution was created by the 2022 merger of Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield universities. “We actually had one young man in computer science who graduated from Bloomsburg and then went to his high school graduation the following weekend.”

He is now working towards a master’s degree.

Hensil said the most popular subjects among State System undergraduates who started as dual-enrolled students are education, health professions, business, management, marketing, biological and biomedical sciences, and psychology.

Across the entire State System, the total number of students taking college classes while still in high school in 2023 compared to 2018 varies greatly by State System university. Eight of the 10 institutions saw at least some increase.

IUP, for example, has 105 dual-enrolled students, up from 68; Slippery Rock University has 9, up from 6.

Two universities reported fewer dual-enrolled students in fall 2023 compared to 2018. They are:

PennWest University, 101, down from 142; and Millersville University, 58, down from 91.

When asked about the decrease, Wendy Mackall, spokeswoman for PennWest, said the university, formed in 2022 from the merger of California, Clarion and Edinboro universities, has been focused on integrating academic offerings at those locations.

Now that a unified curriculum is in place, “We have the opportunity to take a closer look at dual enrollment as one part of a robust strategic enrollment plan,” she said.

Dual enrollment came up in recent discussions with the State System’s faculty union, in part because Mansfield saw it as a way to attract students, said Kenneth Mash, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties.

“I’m not sure it is consciously part of the System’s effort to get students out earlier, but there is something of a demand by students,” Mash said.

“The faculty continues to be aware of total college costs, and we support dual enrollment when appropriate and when students are receiving high-quality college-level courses,” he added.

Many years ago, IUP reduced dual enrollment tuition by 75% to $80 per credit. This March, the school went further by eliminating almost all dual enrollment fees, except the $20 technology fee.

IUP has seen its dual enrollment numbers almost double since 2018 and sees more potential given the newly reduced price.

“Our dual enrollment program continues to grow, and we believe this more student-friendly cost will encourage more students and families to take advantage of this program,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Tom Segar.

For her part, Fleming said she is maintaining an active social life in high school, even while splitting her time between that school in the mornings and IUP in the afternoons, where she has made new friends.

Fleming is happy that she is starting her planned career in finance or accounting early and hopes to eventually pursue a doctoral degree.

Early jump

At first, her grandmother drove her the short distance to IUP’s campus since she was not yet able to drive, but now she has a license.

Fleming’s high school takes part in a state Department of Community and Economic Development program that further lowers her textbook costs.

In the last year alone, the Indiana Area School District has used around $30,000 in funds.

government funding

to support about 50 students in their college-level studies, according to Robert Heinrich Jr., the district superintendent. Fleming said the experience has given her power. “It’s like you are a college student, and it really makes me feel more mature, like more of an adult,” she said.

Ella Fleming’s stomach sank when she walked into her first class at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

“It’s like you are a college student, and it really makes me feel more mature, like more of an adult,” she said.

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